Barely a week after he pledged judicial and democratic reforms, Turkey's strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, typically rediscovered his Islamist self. He reminded the world, once again, how corrupt and hypocritical his understanding of universal justice is.
"We observe that the [Israeli] state terror against Palestinians goes on," Erdoğan said in a speech in which he complained of injustice. "Arms up, Palestinian children are being murdered."
A few days earlier, Erdoğan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalın, described the killing by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) of dozens of Afghan civilians as "modern barbarism." The findings of a four-year inquiry by ADF indeed confirm Kalın's description as barbarism: Junior soldiers were told to get their first kill by shooting prisoners, in a practice known as "blooding"; weapons and other items were planted near Afghan bodies to cover up crimes; and an additional two incidents could constitute a war crime of "cruel treatment."
The pro-Erdoğan media jumped into the ADF story, covering it with big headlines and comments, highlighting the idea that "the West too can be barbaric." This is in fact a half-subconscious attempt to legitimize commonly extreme barbaric practices in the Islamic world. For the sake of truth, both Erdoğan, and his spokesman must be reminded of the commonality of barbarism in their own country.
The unpleasant Australian story illustrates how in democratic countries with strong checks and balances and separation of powers, state guilt appears in the public domain transparently, and how the perpetrators are brought to justice regardless of their public offices and of the nationality of the victims.
The whistle-blower in the Australian affair was the public Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison saidthat a special investigator would be appointed to consider prosecutions from information contained in the report. One SAS [Special Air Service Regiment] squadron was shut down. The government said it would also establish an independent oversight panel to provide "accountability and transparency that sits outside of the ADF chain of command." PM Morrison also phonedAfghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani to express his "deepest sorrow" over the findings.
So much for the Australian "barbarity." Most Turks would greatly envy such modern barbarism perpetrated by a public office.
The Turks learned only from a European Court of Human Rights verdict that their Air Force had bombed a Turkish-Kurdish village in 1994 and killed 45 innocent villagers near Şırnak in southeastern Turkey. Apology? None. How many officers had to stand trial and were sentenced? None.
On the evening of December 28, 2011 a group of Kurdish peasants were smuggling cheap gasoline into their Turkish village from northern Iraq. Four Turkish F-16 fighter jets appeared in the dark sky and attacked the group, killing 34 people, including 17 children. The army and the national intelligence organization blamed each other for the faulty intelligence that led to the attack. Under public pressure, the Erdoğan administration launched an investigation into the attack. Not a single official was found guilty.
In 2013, millions of Turks took to the streets in dozens of cities to protest Erdoğan's authoritarian rule and practices. One dreadful morning in Istanbul, Berkin Elvan's parents sent the 15-year-old boy out to buy bread from the nearby bakery. Elvan was hit in the face by a tear gas canister shot by a police officer. He died after remaining in coma for 269 days. Although a legal case was opened after a 3½-year investigation, there is not one single officer under detention. It has been 7½ years since Elvan was killed in what appears to be a direct shot in the face. The Turkish state is still trying to make sure that not a single officer will be punished for the tragic death of a 15-year-old boy.
There is no sign of accountability within the Turkish public administration system.
Worse, there is no sign of accountability within the Turkish public administration system.
Kemal Kurkut was a 23-year-old Kurdish protester who was shot dead by the police in Diyarbakır, Turkey's biggest Kurdish city, on March 21, 2017. The police claimed that Kurkut was shot on suspicion of being a suicide bomber. Photos later showed him, naked from the waist up, running in front of a firing police squad. The dramatic, undeniable scene was captured by a photographer, Abdurrahman Gök, who later posted the photos. Gök is now facing trial for potential links with terror groups and could get up to 20 years in prison.
What about the officer who shot Kurkut? Just a few days after Erdoğan pledged judicial reforms, a serious crimes court in Diyarbakır acquitted the defendant, a police officer, known only by his initials, Y.S.
The Australian story of barbarism at least had a fair ending. Turkey's do not.
Justice, apparently, is too scarce a commodity for Turkish extremists who are often busy protecting Palestinian terrorists and accusing civilized nations of modern barbarism. The Australian story could be an example of modern barbarism -- its contents are unacceptable -- but it has a fair ending. The Turkish stories of medieval barbarism in the 21st century do not.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.